Amaya eats a dog!

I think we will look back on this trip in two parts… before London and after London.  The week and a half we spent in London was a welcome break from the dismal weather that Europe had been throwing at us.  Not that it was any less dismal in London – we just didn’t have to cycle or camp in it!

Made it to London!

Made it to London!

Amaya loves Jonny and Helen and had been busting at the seams to see them again.  She also couldn’t wait to meet her new cousin, Henry.  The other event Amaya was looking forward to was her much anticipated 2nd birthday – and it didn’t disappoint – there were presents, balloons, a trip to the London aquarium, and, best of all, a dog cake (the closest Amaya will ever come to owning a dog).

Nose kiss for Amaya's dog cake

Nose kiss for Amaya’s dog cake

Amaya and Jonny having a wow of a time at London Aquarium

Amaya and Jonny having a wow of a time at London Aquarium

It was particularly nice to be in London without feeling obliged to do anything touristy.  Our purpose was quite simply to spend time with Jonny and Helen and their little boy.

Helen summarised our stay nicely:

Becoming a mother for the first time has had it’s challenges, but having Mic, Shosh and Amaya to stay has been wonderful. Henry has changed so much over the time they have stayed with us; becoming more alert each day, sleeping for longer, feeding for longer and growing stronger. Watching Amaya interact with him is beautiful; she is inquisitive about his moods, how he moves, his expressions – especially his serious looks. At first she wasn’t sure what to make of him, but day by day she has grown more confident around him and loves to sit near him stroking his hair and talking to him. I think it is the start of a special bond between them, and even though there are many miles that separate them both when Amaya returns to Australia, I know that whenever they see each other, there will be new games and adventures to be had.

Shoshanna's brother Jonny holding Henry while Helen reads Amaya a story.

Shoshanna’s brother Jonny holding Henry while Helen reads Amaya a story.

We are now in Belgium with my parents, Garry and Helen, enjoying amazing cycle paths, beer, chocolate and touring Flanders Field, the Western Front from WWI where too many people lost their lives in senseless bloody fighting.

Hey Grandma and Grandpa!

Hey Grandma and Grandpa!

Mic drinking what is purported to be the best beer in the world at St Sixtus Abbey.  10.1% alcohol - then we had to ride another 25km!

Mic drinking what is purported to be the best beer in the world at St Sixtus Abbey. 10.1% alcohol – then we had to ride another 25km!

Looking across Flanders Field - hill 60 is out there somewhere where miners from the Hunter Valley dug tunnels under a German munitions dump and blew it up!

Looking across Flanders Field – hill 60 is out there somewhere where miners from the Hunter Valley dug tunnels under a German munitions dump and blew it up.

Advertisements

Here we go…

So it begins – 5 months of meandering through Europe on bicycles with the vague aim of making it to the Baltic Sea and then cycling back down to Berlin.  We are riding because we love it, because we love Europe and also in support of Clinica Verde.  Clinica Verde is a clinic that provides much needed care to mothers and their babies in a rural part of Nicaragua.  Shoshanna and I were privileged to visit Clinica Verde in 2011 when it was in the construction phase. Now it is providing a service that we take for granted, but just isn’t available in many poor countries.  We would really appreciate your support through donating what you can to this charity. (you can read more about Clinica Verde here)

Poster for our ride.

Poster for our ride – you can click on this and donate if you like.

The all important shot in front of Gaudi's iconic Sagrada Familia.

The all important shot in front of Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia.

We are both nervous as we set out on what seems like an impossible task even without a 2 year old.  To add an extra dimension Amaya has started getting her 2 year old molars.  We have had a couple of interesting days with her in Barcelona, which involved a number of meltdowns.

Cycle touring is about focusing on each day, on each moment.  If one gets too concerned with the big picture, about the enormity of the ride and all the potential problems, then the task becomes insurmountable.

So the Baltic here we come – but right now we are going to enjoy this little Catalonian town we are in called Manresa!

Amaya checking out another big Church - Colegiata Basílica de Santa María.  She was quick to comprehend the vibe of the place and  spoke in whispers the whole time.

Manresa – Amaya checking out another big Church – Colegiata Basílica de Santa María. She was quick to comprehend the vibe of the place and spoke in whispers the whole time.

She asked if she could have a drink...

She asked if she could have a drink…

Our First Foray

I was nervous. Mostly about 15 month old Amaya’s eating and sleeping, neither of which she is particularly awesome at.

We’d done several cycle tours pre-kids, and we’d also done lots of day rides with Amaya. But this time we were going to park the car, and simply ride. No cot, no highchair, no freezer full of never fail meals, no normality. Just us, our bikes, and our tent. I had to simply trust it would all work out…

We rode 200km of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail (Victoria, Australia), from Beechworth to Bright and back again (http://www.murraytomountains.com.au). Spring was a fabulous time of year to do it, with the countryside lush and green, the air crisp with mountain snow freshness, and just the right amount of sunshine. Mic’s parents, Garry and Helen joined us in the adventure.

The start of the rail trail

The days were deliberately kept short and manageable. As none of us were fit for touring, we wanted to enjoy the sites and winery’s, and we also weren’t sure of Amaya’s “Magic Buggy” tolerance levels.  It turns out that her tolerance levels are not only quite high but her enthusiasm for touring almost matches our own.  Four days in and the major thing Amaya was frustrated with was our tardiness in getting away in the mornings.  She would often be impatiently sitting in the magic buggy waiting for us to get the final panniers on the bikes.

Challenges

It wasn’t all smooth sailing.  We had trouble regulating Amaya’s heat while in the trailer.  As soon as the sun began streaming through the tinted plastic windows the buggie would heat up like a sauna.  We rectified this somewhat through opening the back and allowing greater airflow.  But seeing none of us could actually fit in the trailer it was impossible to know what conditions were like for her.

The temperature issue also contributed to a sleep issue.  Amaya often found it difficult to get to sleep during the day and once asleep didn’t sleep for her usual (and essential) 1.5 hours.  Riding the steady incline from Everton to Beachworth is hard enough without the constant whining of a one year old.

Sleeping at night in our tent was also an issue.  We were fine in our new Marmot down sleeping bags – but we quickly realised that the two infant sleeping bags and the numerous blankets and jackets were insufficient for Amaya when the temperature dropped below zero.  We woke up in Bright to the drip, drip, drip of ice melting on the inside of our tent fly – I had spent most of the night sharing my sleeping bag with my little daughter trying to keep her warm.

A Few Learnings

We always said that the experiences from this ride would be pivotal to our preparation for our more ambitious undertaking next year.  We were right and here are a few of our learnings:

  1. Better sleeping bag for Amaya – we have already ordered a new sleeping bag identical to ours (Marmot Hydrogen 850 down).  We’ll tie off the bottom of the sleeping bag so that it is perfect for Amaya’s current length.
  2.   Always leave early – latest 8am!!! on the two mornings we achieved this our day was so much better – it means there is time for the unexpected which is to be expected with a one year old.
  3. Thick socks, raincoat and boots for Amaya!!! We really just learnt not to skimp on gear for Amaya.  We spend a lot of time thinking about our own gear and it shouldn’t be any different for her.
  4. Amaya is more adaptable than us!!!  We spent too much time worrying about how she would adapt.   The nervousness we felt at the beginning was unwarranted.  She loved it – the world was her playground – she collected conkers, talked to birds, hugged trees, set up and packed up camp, sniffed flowers, barked at dogs and stomped on ants, read, ate, slept and read in her magic buggy.

Europe here we come!!!

Ready to ride in the morning – Amaya spent the majority of her time reading.

Amaya loved exploring the campgrounds with her trusty headlamp.